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Classroom CubeSat Integration Crash Course

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

We here at the Aerospace and Innovation Academy frequently reference CubeSats, along with orbiting policies, whether it be in our own programs or student proposals. Yet, curious, space-oriented students, or teachers eager to implement new methods and philanthropies into their classrooms, might be wondering: what are CubeSats and what is the benefit of teaching/learning about these small satellites within the classroom? CubeSats are defined by NASA as nanosatellites that travel on rockets preparing for future launches, while also performing high-risk research as drastic as bacterial analysis. The satellites’ size, cost, and relatively short assembly time allows for ideal construction by schools and academic organizations rather than large-scale projects that can last for decades. Despite their compact nature, CubeSats are highly beneficial teaching devices that not only promote the growth of the STEM pipeline, but also mold the leaders of tomorrow–a truly beneficial resource for enthusiastic, motivated, and absorbent students. However, some barriers hinder successful product proposals and any further action, the only main downside of entering the process–and we’re on a quest to fix it.

The sheer idea of a CubeSat, including the brainstorming, building, and potential launching process, may seem daunting and unsuited for undergraduates, nevermind middle and high school students. Conversely, at the turn of the 21st century, two professors created the first CubeSat for that exact purpose–to engage students interested in space and engineering, regardless of age, in a lower-cost manner (as opposed to typical, costly satellites). A CubeSats’ design, from the materials to the size, make it ideal for brief, low-orbit, compact travels that were first seen in the early 2000s by research-based universities and have continued to expand to various colleges, high schools, and even the lucky few middle schools that have submitted detailed proposals to global programs. Notably, NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative is the ideal situation for several students due to its opportunistic mission (providing funds and resources to promising applicants) and reputable name. Building a CubeSat certainly doesn’t come without hard work and dedication from all sides, but the results are certainly promising and ultimately provide more than an experience on a resume.

CubeSats may allow students to find their calling in aerospace and/or engineering, while executing great research along the way–but what are the social and academic implications of building these miniature satellites? Research on CubeSat construction, particularly in younger classrooms, expresses the significance of active learning in the STEM scope. Students that work in different STEM fields at younger ages are exposed to crucial concepts that are utilized in applicable occupations; these concepts are not only vital to space exploration, but also public policy and entrepreneurship. Additionally, students with hands-on learning opportunities tend to absorb and apply the information more efficiently, while also learning to forge significant teamwork and leadership skills through applied tasks. Ultimately, CubeSats in the classroom not only provide students of all ages with meaningful, passionate experiences, but also shape rounded, teamwork-oriented leaders through a Blue-Sky Learning philosophy. Expressing an interest for CubeSat education is the first step for educators, although such academic implementation comes at a cost–the unfortunate dilemma that continues to be explored by even the youngest of entrepreneurs. For now, however, we will continue to see the expansion of CubeSat builders throughout the world, even if it means enacting new policies or regulations to reach a galaxy of future scientists.

In this episode of “Let’s Go to Space: BLUESKY Learning,” Episode 76: Student Proposal Spotlight: Funding FlipSat with Theo Ouyang and William Mayville, we’re joined with two 11th grade Wolfpack students who share how their individual yet diverse passions have come together for a common cause. Theo, a student at Suncoast High School, provides insight into his FlipSat proposal several years in the making and how continuous perseverance and adaptation will enable this CubeSat to launch in early 2023. However, Theo did not reach this point without encountering difficulties in being accepted to a university-geared initiative, an issue that peer William yearns to solve in the future. William, a student at American Heritage, expresses how his passions for public speaking and debate ultimately fueled his current entrepreneurial endeavors, in which he hopes to engage capable students in the CubeSat initiative process by providing funding and grants to eligible entries. For students interested in either building CubeSats or policy, Theo and William are great examples of the benefits of early STEM and policy education. Learn more about Theo Ouyang and William Mayville’s Wolfpack experiences from elementary school to the present, or visit our other weekly podcasts to hear from other speakers, by clicking the link above. Also make sure to check out our website to learn more about becoming a member of the Aerospace and Innovation Academy, where you can join us in our quest to go to space.

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